Queens 10K race report

Three races in five weeks that also include a family wedding out of state and a week-long cold mean I’m wicked backed up on race reports. But now that marathon training has started, I need to clear the decks, so here’s the final race report for my spring racing season. If you missed the earlier Brooklyn Half and Mini 10K reports, you should probably at least read the Mini 10K one or some of this won’t make sense.

The race

Queens 10K was my third NYRR Five Borough race of the year, and is probably my favorite, just ahead of Bronx. It’s short enough to be a nice break after a season full of longer races, relatively flat, and reasonably easy to get to from my part of North Jersey.

It also was a completely different course this year. They’re doing construction in or near Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, so the long loop around the pond in past years wasn’t part of the course this year. Instead, we did a lot of looping around the other half of the park. That seemed likely to slow the course down, if only because the sheer number and tightness of the turns meant running 6.2 miles over the course was less likely because it would be almost impossible to run all the tangents in the shortest possible distance, which is how the course is measured to meet USATF standards.

Still, it’s the easiest 10K course I run most years because it’s flat and the others are filled with hills. So, especially after my Mini 10K accidental PR, I was thinking this had potential to be a second 10K PR if the weather cooperated.

Last year wasn’t too warm, but it was insanely humid. By the time I reached the Unisphere fountain near the end of the course last year, I’d wanted to run through it to cool down. By mid-week before this year’s race, I had a feeling I’d feel the same way this year.

My goals

One of my goals between now and this time next year is to set masters’ PRs faster than my open PRs in the six distances I’ve run as an adult: Mile, 5K, 5-mile, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon. The 5-mile is the softest PR, but that’s because it’s an odd race distance and so I haven’t run one since 2015, when I was just starting to run. The others are all distances where I had a race in mind at which I thought I could PR, and Queens was my 10K race.

Then I PR’d at the Mini 10K the week before. Oops. So now I had a couple of choices: run for fun with no pressure, or see if I could knock even more off that PR on a good course.

I ended up with a process goal, and a time goal: Go sub-90 in the race, and mentally run it like I did the Mini 10K — but this time with the intention of PRing.

Logistics

Queens, like Bronx, is a race that’s actually possible to drive to because there’s parking at Citi Field. The only glitch: NYRR had pre-paid parking passes, but didn’t mention that in their emails about the race until after I’d picked up my bib, or at bib pickup itself. After several rounds of email, I was left with a couple of choices: Skip a run to go into the city after work Monday or Tuesday and get a pass; wait until Thursday and hope they still had passes left; or figure out a parking solution that didn’t involved Citi Field.

I went with option C, and started looking for parking lots in the area. I ended up in downtown Flushing, one subway stop away, but at less than half the cost of Citi Field parking even after the subway fare was added in. Still, I was irked at the communication issues with NYRR. As I told them in my final email, I expect better from them because I know they usually run an excellent operation.

One nice perk of the Plan C parking, though, was I had to walk by a Starbucks to get to the subway, so I could easily get my pre-race coffee. I’ll probably do this option or a similar one in future years.

Race morning

I got up early. Later than on a work morning, but not by much. They’ve been working on the GWB nights and weekends, so only one level has been open during that time, which meant an accident would leave me stuck, or detouring way out of my way. When I was ready to leave a few minutes early, I did so I had some extra cushion.

I had gotten out of my neighborhood and was about to get on the state road that would take me to the GWB when I realized my banana and bagel were still in my apartment. Oops. If I’d remembered two minutes later, it would have taken three times longer to turn around and I probably wouldn’t have tried. But I did, so I did and was back on my way at exactly the time I’d originally planned to leave.

The drive over was a little hairy. At one point, a tractor-trailer with a double trailer decided to merge into the right lane where I was. I had somebody else coming up right behind me, so I couldn’t even slam on my brakes. I had visions of getting squashed like a bug, but managed to slow down enough to not get hit from the side without slowing down so much I got rear-ended.

As if I needed any extra pre-race adrenaline.

I took a wrong turn getting to the parking lot, so I got a tour of more of downtown Flushing than I’d intended, but made it there with plenty of time to spare.

Flushing-Main Street is the last stop on the 7, so there was a train there when I arrived, but it didn’t end up leaving for almost 10 minutes. Still, I was able to sit down and wasn’t in a rush.

Most of the runners heading to the park at that point were Wave 1 runners. Once I got there and walked over toward the bag check and our meeting place for a Sub-30 photo, I looked for someplace I could sit down and put my feet up. That had been working, so I wasn’t going to mess with it. A playground did the trick, and I sorted through my gear bag for the stuff I needed to check, vs. what was either going to get consumed before the race or carried with me.

My project that weekend was finishing up a beta read of a friend’s novel manuscript, and I’d brought it with me knowing I’d have time to kill, but it was nice to just kick back and people-watch.

Once I had everything sorted and knew I wouldn’t need anything that had to get checked again until after the race, I dropped my gear bag at bag check and found another bench in the shade to wait for the rest of the Subbers and the group photo. There was a soccer game across the way with the Unisphere as a backdrop, plus the usual pre-race bustle. Bronx Speedster ran by in his VCTC singlet and stopped briefly before promising to be back for the photo.

After a bunch of messages back and forth, we finally had five of us for a photo: Me, Bronx Speedster, Team Sizzles and a fifth Subber I’ve met at a couple of races. After that, Bronx Speedster headed to his Wave 1 corral and the rest of us got in line for the porta potties.

We almost ended up walking into a giant lake in the middle of the field, but somebody noticed and warned us. Good thing — I didn’t feel like running in soggy sneakers.

Team Sizzles had earlier been wearing the wrong bibs, but they switched before the race. Not that it mattered, since they were running together. We all headed to our corrals, although I stopped to do my Lunge Matrix and Leg Swings before getting in the corral.

We were halfway up when I realized I hadn’t eaten the banana yet and it was still tucked in my sports bra (its usual pre-race storage place). I ended up only eating half of it and tossing the rest, but figured I could always eat an extra chew or two during the race if needed.

My race

Like always, the first mile was the shakeout for Corral L, and then we were on an overpass over the earlier part of the course. I looked down and saw something I’ve never seen before: Lots of people behind me. Not just stragglers, but a legit full course of people going under us the way we had just done a quarter-mile earlier.

I checked my watch, but my heart rate was good, so I hadn’t gone out too fast. In fact, my Mile 1 split had been about 15 seconds slower than the previous week’s PR race. OK, let’s see how this plays out. 5K is right at the turnaround on the long out-and-back section, so just enjoy the run up until that point and reassess.

My splits were looking good, and pretty steady, so I kept going. It was warm, but the new course had a fair bit of shade. I was still seeing a decent number of people behind me as the course continued to snake around with overpasses and underpasses. Still weird, but also pretty exciting for somebody who’s usually bringing up the rear.

As I hit the out part of the out-and-back, I started seeing Subbers coming the other direction, and some saw me first. The cheering back and forth is one reason I like the Queens and Bronx courses so much. We have so many Subbers running and we’re all spread out timewise, so we get to cheer for each other as we pass.

They also had sprinklers set up in few places, which felt great. I had just passed one of those when I heard “You have amazing pacing” from over my shoulder. It was Corgi Coach’s Runner from last week’s Mini 10K again. She said she’d seen me a ways back and had been chasing me down the whole way. We ended up running together-ish through the whole out-and-back as she did intervals and I just chugged along.

When I got to 5K, I was basically at the same point as the previous week time-wise. No real uphills left, but also no downhills to help the way Cat Hill had in the Mini 10K. Still, I was running comfortably and this week Coach B had given me the go-ahead to race this one and go for a PR.

I kept a steady pace, even though it was getting warmer. Just keep going.

Right before Mile 4, there’s an uphill to an overpass by the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, the last real hurdle on the course. It was short and steep, but my split was good and I felt good. This was also where I lost CCR as she dropped back on the uphill.

More sun on this part of the course, and I had to remind my legs to just keep going. At this point, I had one bottle of Nuun Endurance in hand and was drinking that between the water stops. I wanted to back off, but it was mental more than anything and I reminded myself I’d hate not getting a new PR when I was on track for one.

At Mile 5, I checked and I was in good shape for a PR and on track for Sub-90, but I was also starting to have more trouble convincing myself to keep up the pace. And then CCR showed up again. Once again, she’d chased me down.

Now it was my turn. I just focused on staying with her as we headed toward the Unisphere for the final mile of the course. I wanted to slow down, but I wanted that PR, darn it, and CCR wasn’t slowing down. Now she was the one keeping me on track.

I seriously wanted to jump in the fountain around the Unisphere, and said as much. But we kept going and some of the city running clubs were now gathered along the course cheering on runners. Just keep going.

As we rounded the last curve, we hit the Mile 6 marker and I saw that sub-90 was still possible if I kicked hard, so I took off. I could see the seconds ticking down as got close to the finish, so I dug deep and sprinted. I triumphantly threw my hands in the air as I crossed the finish and almost knocked race director Peter Ciaccia over because I was going too fast to stop. (Fortunately, I did not.)

Then I stopped my watch.

1:30:00

Since I was part the finish line, I knew I’d gotten my sub-90, even if I didn’t know by how much. When CCR caught up to me, we high-fived and I showed her the watch, then thanked her. I don’t know if I would have gotten that sub-90 without her to chase during that last mile, and I told her so.

I haven’t been that euphoric at the end of a race since my first 5K as an adult, when I set a goal of sub-48, realized at the end that I was close to sub-45 and pulled out a similar kick over the last tenth of a mile to hit a time I’d never dreamed I could run. My final time in that case was 44:48. Today, it was 1:29:55 — just enough to get my goal.

I could have run Queens faster, I think, but I was most excited about the process of this race. It felt like I ran it the right way mentally, and the way I should approach all of my races.

I think I finally figured how to get out of my own way, even on a race where I have a goal and where the circumstances aren’t perfect. By that measure, spring race season was a huge success.

On to marathon training!